Old Toledo Courthouse, destroyed by fire on November 4, 1885.
A history of Toledo, IL as compiled by Mrs. Mary Richardson in February 1949.
In a pleasant mood or retrospection let us look back 125 years on the place where Toledo is now located. We see a swamp land covered with joint grass (prairie grass) 10-12 feet high. American Indians, principally the Kickapoo, were roaming over the area in search of deer and other wild game. The Indians gradually grew less and the Blackhawk War in 1832 took the remaining ones away. The white settlement of Cumberland County came close upon the retreat of the Indians. The settlers came principally from Kentucky, Tennessee, Indians, Ohio and Virginia. Toledo was platted in 1854 by Nelson and John Berry, Lewis Harvey and Wm. P. Rush. They established a public square and named the village “Prairie City”. Its site covers the geographical center of the county and was originated for the purpose of accommodating the seat of justice for Cumberland County.
Previous to this, in 1843, an election was held for this purpose, several localities competing. DeKalb, in Cottonwood Township, received a majority of 7 votes, but for controversial reasons, the site was dismissed. The County Commissioners met in 1843 at Greenup, already a thriving village, to finish the formation of the County. Greenup remained conveniently as the seat of justice until an election in 1855, Greenup and Prairie City competing for the location, resulting in 90 votes majority in favor of Prairie City. For 14 years the county had the building of a Court House as the seat of justice was now established. In December, 1855, a contract was made with Wiley Ross and Bennet Beals for the erection of a Court House of brick structure at a cost on $10,500.00, the building to be completed by November 1856. The site of the public square was very unpromising as a pond of water covered a larger part of it, but work was at once begun filling in the area. In 1858 a neat wooden fence was built around the court-yard by Reuben Beals and W. H. Laughter. In later years this was replaced by a neat iron fence, very ornamental in style. This fence was later purchased by the citizens, removed, and erected around the Toledo Cemetery.
After almost 30 years of service this court-house was razed by a fire on the night of November 5th, 1885. In 1887 a new court-house, the present structure, was built, this one to have fire-proof protection for county records, as many were destroyed in the fire of the previous one. A jail did not seem a vital necessity to the county at this early date, as the jail in Coles or Clark counties could be used when a prisoner needed safe keeping, and no attempt to build one was made until 1859, when a contract was made with Reuben Bloomfield and William Jones to construct a jail. This was a one-story brick building divided into two parts, one part the jailer’s quarters, the other one divided into four cells. Two of iron and two of wood, on each side of a narrow corridor. These cells were heated by a stove in the corrido. The jail provided no sanitation and no provision for female prisoners. This building was located one block north of the early court-house. It finally became sadly in need of repairs, was condemned from time to time by the grand jury, and finally in 1890 the present structure was erected, two blocks south-east of the court-house.
As it necessitated the presence of the county officers at least in the county seat the village began to grow. On the 10th day of June, 1866, a public meeting was held at the court-house to determine if the village should be incorporated. Reuben Bloomfield was chosen president, and James E. Mumford, clerk, of the meeting. An oral vote was taken, which resulted unanimously for incorporation. An election was called and held on August 8th, 1866, to elect five trustees as follows: Joel Smith, D. B. Green, J. E. Mumford, M. B. Ross, and A. G. Caldwell.
The name “Prairie City” was found to conflict at the Post Office Department with another village in the state so to establish a post office here, some of the citizens hit upon the name “Majority Point” for the name of the post office. But as legal forms had to be maintained, early in 1874 a meeting was called to select a name. Several names were presented, but the final vote was in favor of Toledo. Toledo is of Hebrew origin, meaning families or generations, and in Hebrew is pronounced “Toledoth”, in English, “Toledo, changed to one of historical note. A legend asserts that when the oldest inhabitant arrived on the spot, the gazed upon the mass of green, emerald gemmed as it were with frogs: he said, “Now lettest thy servant depart in peace, I have seen this great country, flowing with mud and frogs.” Suddenly addressing the little frogs he said, “My children what do you this land”? The reply each little frog chippered gleefully, “T-lee-do!” “T-lee-do!” and ever after the name of the place was called Toledo.
The business of Toledo has been confined principally around the public square with some exceptions. The early business houses were all frame building, but one by one they disappeared giving way to brick building, and only one remains, this being occupied by Joe Hughes. William P. Rush was the first store keeper, followed by Lee, Norfolk, Bloxom and others. Mrs. Wilson was the first milliner and Perry Cox the first hotel keeper.
In 1874 the Cumberland Democrat newspaper listed 20 business firms around the square as follows: Bruster and Sons, two stores, dry good, clothing, provisions, groceries, etc; Rono Logan, groceries, etc: Miles Moore, liquors and confectioneries; Mike Barrett, dry goods, groceries; Mrs. Mary Bradshaw, milliner and dressmaking: Charles Hanker, furniture and undertaking: Mat Hurst, saddler and harness making: E. B. Jones, drugs, medicine and groceries: d> H. Wohlers, boots, shoes and boot maker; Levi Ross, groceries, confections and ice cream; Reuben Bloomfield, dry goods, restaurant and groceries; R. M. & C. O. Ray, liquors, confectioneries, tobacco, and cigars; Dr. J. H. Yanaway, drugs, medicine, groceries, paints and oils; A. A. Lovins, hardware, tinware, farming utensils, stoves, etc; Mrs. McCartney, milliner; a number one hotel, the “Brown House”, two printing offices, the Cumberland Democrat and Republican Mail. There were six physicians, ten lawyers and four preachers. Including these and other families there were eighty-two families living in the incorporate limits of the village.
The six physicians were as follows: Lewis Brookhart, who was the first, and John Lee, second, coming in 1855. They thought it a fine location on account of the “chills and ager”. Following these were Dr. J. H. Yanaway, D. F. Chapman, Edward Miles and Joseph Eskridge.
The ten lawyers were H. B. Decius, L. L. Logan, N. L. Scranton, W. H. McDonald, C. Woods, W. B. Prather, D. B. Green, Flavius Tossey, Thomas and Levi Brewer.
The doctors following later were W. W. Park, A. J. Reeves, D. C. Chambers, Robert Bloomfield, G. E. Lyons, Virgil Carter, C. R. Bird, R. F. Stephens, William Smith, W. R. Rhodes, L. E. Massie and R. E. Steck. The lawyers following later were J. B. Atchison, W. S. Everhart, Lewis Decius, S. E. Miller, Clint Brewer, C. M. Connor, A. F. Bussard, Walter Greathous, Walter Brewer, W. A. Carr, Theodore Cutright, Robert Brewer, and Glen Neal.
The first school-house in Toledo was a small one-story frame building in the southeast part of the village. This was also used for church services. This building becoming inadequate to accommodate the pupils, a two-story frame building was erected in 1862, and after nearly twenty years of service, this building was moved from the lot, and in 1881, the present structure of four rooms was erected. Additions have since been added, with many other improvements, making it an up-to-date school. Many students finished the school courses, but not until 1890 were graduating exercises held for a class of five girls: Bertha Hanker, Ivy Connor, Nora Bloomfield, Ura Chapman, and Mary Shull. Since then graduating exercises have been held every year.
The first church erected in Toledo was a frame building built by the Methodist Episcopal denomination on the site where the present brick building is located, additions having been added to the original structure; and in 1883 the Free Methodist, organization built a frame church in the southwest part of Toledo, but it was later sold, torn down and moved away. The Baptist denomination erected a brick building later on the southeast corner of the public square, but the interested members moving away, services were abandoned, and the building was purchased by the citizens for our present public library.
The Christian denomination for a number of years held services in the lower room of a two-story frame building, the upper rooms being used as a lodge room for fraternal organizations. This frame building stood where the present brick structure is located, the Christian organization buying the building, moving it off the lot, and at present is occupied by John Kelly as a grocery. The Presbyterian church on South Meridian Street was erected in 1891. Some additions have since been added. The United Brethren church on West Main Street was built-in 1908, with an addition later. The Pentecostal people have also erected a neat frame church in the southwest part of Toledo in the last few years.
The railroad that passes through Toledo was first built-in 1877 from Mattoon to Grayville by a company known as the Mattoon and Grayville Co., this railroad to run from Mattoon in Coles County, to Prairie City in Cumberland County and then on to Grayville in White County. Later this road was extended to Decatur and Peoria on the north and to Evansville, Indiana, on the south. We know it as P. D. & E. Railroad, later the Illinois Central purchased it. The Democrat paper stated that on June 23, 1877, the train crew ran the engine across the street leading from the court-house, blew a long blast from its whistle. This brought the citizens to the road, bringing a wagon load of refreshments. After the band played a few numbers Clinton Woods from the top of the engine cab, introduced Judge H. B. Decius, who thanked the contractors and laborers of the road for the citizens. After a few remarks by the contractor, Mr. Wyeth, Mr. Simmons, the engineer, tendered the train to the crowd for an excursion to Greenup, which was accepted, and a jollier, happy company never boarded a train than the one tat went to Greenup on the first train ever running into Prairie City.
In 1868 the Fraternal Order of Masons was organized as the Prairie City Lodge, also the associate organization, the Eastern Star, was organized. At present they have active lodges and own a lovely lodge room. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows was organized in 1868, and later the associate order of Rebekas. For years they were very active, but recently they both were abandoned. We have had several other organizations: The G.A.R, Woman’s Relief Corps, Sons of Civil War Veterans, Knights of Pythias, Modern Woodman and Royal Neighbors, but they have ceased to exist.
The American Legion with a fine register of ex-service men, was organized in 1936. They own a nice building on the public square, which not only serves as a meeting place for the Legion and its Auxiliary, but also for community affairs. The Legion Auxiliary with a splendid membership was organized in 1938.
In 1856 Reuben Bloomfield and __________ Templeton purchased the Greenup Tribune, a county newspaper and moved it to Prairie City. They conducted it for about a year, then it was sold and removed and the county was without a voice from the people until 1860 when J. E. Mumford moved “The Expositor” from Greenup, and changed the name to the “Cumberland Democrat”. In 1867 he sold it to Flavius Tossey, who later sold it to G. E. Mason. In 1875 Mason retired and W. D. Mumford continued the business until 1882, when Adolph and Leon Summerlin became the purchasers, published it for a number of years, later selling to Barton & Wood. They operated the paper for several years, then sold to Will Niccum and Minor Smith; Smith later bought Niccum’s interest and after a few years of publishing, Smith sold the business to James Drakeford, after several years as owner and editor, in 1949, Drakeford sold the plant to the Mattoon Journal Gazett Company, with Keith Dillman as manager and editor. The paper has been known as the Toledo Democrat since 1882, formerly Cumberland Democrat. In 1874 the “The Republican Mail”, a republican newspaper, was brought from Greenup to Prairie City with Edward Hitchcock as the editor. H. T. Woolen succeeded Hitchcock as editor. J. And A. Caldwell purchased the plant and edited the paper. In 1879 Purtill & Martin took over as publishers, changed the name of the paper to “Toledo Express”, during which time J. T. Connor was the editor. In 1889 Mr. Connor became the owner and C. W. Connor managed the plant for his father. In 1901 Mr. Connor sold the plant to R. P. Barr, the name was changed to the “Toledo Argus”. In 1904 William Andrews purchased the business and in 1912 he sold it to C. R. Davis, who after editing the paper for a time as “The Toledo Republican”, moved the business from Toledo.
T. P. Prather conducted the first lumber yard in Toledo. He sold the business to Henry Tippett, who, after a few years of operation, sold it to Kelley & Wisely. They in turn sold it to the Armour Grain Co. in 1910. Mr. E. B. Cutts managed the business for the company and in 1923 purchased the lumber yard and is its present owner.
Alec Caldwall was the first postmaster, conduction the office in one room of his dwelling. Wiley Ross hauled the mail to and from Jewett, Illinois. Mr. Ballou followed Caldwall as postmaster. In 1877 A. J. Lee was appointed post